Things I’ve Read and Loved #2: May

May was a real month, let me tell you. It was a 16 book month. And I will tell you why! I discovered that the Suginami ward libraries have an excellent English book selection. All the branches. I am so impressed with Suginami ward.

I also had a lot of Japanese books lying around, so my selection was pretty massive.

  1. Killing Commendatore – Haruki Murakami

As a Murakami fan going on 9 years now, of course one of his books makes the top of the list. I will say, though, I haven’t been crazy about his work since 1Q84. I’m not a huge fan of his short stories, and I thought Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki just didn’t have that something that make it totally impossible to put down a typical Murakami novel. Killing Commendatore absolutely had that something, as well as a return to themes/motifs like music, small underground spaces, crossing into different worlds, and nameless main characters. He also touched on a lot of issues related to making art, the artist as a profession, and the history of imperialism. All in all, I thought the pacing was a bit off at times, but I went through the two 500 page books at a pretty wild speed. Unfortunately, it won’t be translated into English until later this year.

2. Open City – Teju Cole

I find Cole’s work almost meditative. When you start reading, it’s like he reaches out and takes you on a walk of his mind with no particular goal in mind–just wandering his psyche. He also has the interesting–but not negative–effect of making me want to stop reading. He includes, organically, so many references to other books, to music, to art, and he shows how it’s possible to view the city in which you live. I always end up wanting to stop and look something up, or stop and watch everything happening on my morning train with new eyes. There was one part at the end that I found dissatisfactory to the point of being almost offensive and can’t find much reference to it in reviews or interviews, but this book is still 100% worth the read.

3. The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing – Melissa Banks

This is a book of short stories, but they are all about Jane Rosenal from when she is 14 to her 20s (?). There are so, so few coming of age narratives for girls (even fewer in film!) so this was refreshing based on the premise alone, but I also loved Jane’s relationship to other characters and her at times inability, at times refusal to become what society tells her a woman is. Jane is basically a total weirdo, and sometimes she tries to hide it and perform her role as a woman in society, and sometimes she absolutely embraces it, and the consequences of both moves are always very realistic-feeling. I wished the book continued for the whole rest of her life.

4. The Baron in the Trees – Italo Calvino

You know when you’re in the mood for a particular kind of book? I was really not in the mood for Calvino. I know his game, and I know he’s an oddball. I also was trying to read only women writers at the time. But the premise of this book–a young boy, after a dispute at the dinner table, climbs into a tree and never comes back down again–was too hilariously weird for me to resist. The book was actually quite touching, and could be interpreted as a thinly concealed meditation of human society (mainly relating to issues of governance) and politics.

5. The Devil Wears Prada – Lauren Weisberger

I cannot lie–I absolutely loved the movie. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen it. I also would like to go on the record and say that I was really disappointed by the ending because yeah, Andy’s dream was to be a writer so leaving Runway was ultimately a good choice, but I hated that the way her quitting was framed. She chose her boyfriend and her passions over the at once frivolous and cut-throat, big, mean fashion industry. Yes, Miranda was a crazy and abusive boss. However, working intense hours and dedicating your life to a job–prioritizing your job over a really basic, boring boyfriend and your boring friends–is not, in my mind, selling out or shameful. It wasn’t for Andy, which is fair, but let’s not try to demonize the Runway lifestyle.

I’ve had that stewing in my head for 12 years, and it feels good to get it all out.

That being said, the book was much clearer about how abusive Miranda was, and as a Marxist (well, also as a human, but) I can say with 100% confidence that it is horrifying. I also probably would enjoy that job, but I have accurately been accused of work-related masochism before and really, maybe that’s why I like the story so much?

Anyway, if you like the movie you’d like the book, and if you didn’t like the movie I think you’d like the book because it’s a lot deeper and Andy is a bit fierce compared to movie!Andy, where she’s just kind of a whiny pushover tbQh.

Please stay tuned for a lot more well-reasoned thoughts on books in the coming weeks.

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Books I’ve Read and Loved #1: January-April

Recently, as a way to emphasize how asocial I’ve been for the past few months to people I am catching up with for… the first time in a few months, I’ve been saying that I’ve read 45 books since January.

This is true, and not intended to be boastful. I really just mean: that’s how little time I spend with others when I’m not at work. Also, I read really fast, I don’t know.

But one of my friends asked what some particularly good books have been, and I totally blanked. I know that if you just read something once, there’s such a small, small chance it’ll actually stick in your brain. And yet, I’ve been treating books like news articles, and just putting them away when I’m done. So in the interest of trying to reflect more on what I read, here is a list of books I have read and loved from January to April.

1. Annihilation – Jeff VanderMeer

My friend, who is a major sci-fi skeptic recommended this, so I knew it was going to be really thoughtfully laid out and on the more realistic side of science fiction. It actually reminded me a lot of Stalker (the Tarkovsky movie; also a little bit the book it was based on) in terms of basic premise and atmosphere. I read almost all of it alone in a laundromat at night and it was extremely creepy because of the psychological aspect of the novel. The basic plot is not so wild, but the way an alien environment reacts to and distorts the human mind never fails to send me up one wall and down the other with paranoia and panic. I liked the other books in the trilogy too, and I didn’t like the movie so much.

2. David Bowie: A Life – Dylan Jones

At first I was really put off by the fact that it’s entirely clips of testimonies from people who knew David Bowie with no longer text linking them, but it made it easy to read when waiting in line for bread or riding the train. I tend to avoid biographies and autobiographies because each author has an agenda of course, and I find that off-putting. Jones, of course, curated the testimonies, and so he too was operating under some agenda, but because it was entirely composed of the voices of third parties, I think it offered a really well-rounded picture of Bowie while giving a lot of basic information for someone who, going into the book, wasn’t so knowledgable. Basically though, I’ll read pretty much anything about Bowie.

3. How to Write an Autobiographical Novel – Alexander Chee

Chee’s collected essays are so beautifully, meticulously written and cover such a wide array of subjects and time periods in his life. I first read his essay about his rose garden in The New Yorker the week before the book was published, and as soon as I finished I pre-ordered it. The essays gave just enough to details of his life to make me really want to read more, so I read one of his novels but I’m hoping to see more essays someday.

4. A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

I read Manhattan Beach first, which is a really fun read, and then moved on to this one. It’s not that I liked it so much–I didn’t really like any of the characters, but I also understand I probably wasn’t meant to–but after reading it I thought, okay I really get why it won the Pulitzer. Egan treats each character with such care that even if they exhibit some really stereotypical traits individually, somehow the story never falls into overtrodden territory. She balances well-known tropes with innovation, and the result is a kind of familiar story of the crazy change in times from the 1970s to now, but written in such a way that it feels completely new. Also, I will always see pauses in music in a new light.

It seems I did not read so many interesting things for the first four months of the year, but read assured, since May I have been so into all kinds of books, and also found a cheap website that ships books to Japan from the UK. So the next post will be the May books only. If you have recommendations, I hesitate to ask for them because I think I should read less, but… I can’t stop you from sending them either.

A Long Overdue Thank You Note

There is nowhere on Earth I would rather be.

That’s not a thought I often have. Even when I’m happy, there’s usually somewhere else I’d rather be–travelling, eating gelato, at the movies, in the 1970s.

Yesterday, my school’s baseball team had their first game of the season. We aren’t known for having a strong team, but we are known for having a loving atmosphere. A lot of the kids and most of the teachers came to cheer, and the brass band played a different song for each kid who was at bat.

Miraculously, in the second inning, one of our kids had the most perfect, beautiful hit, and made it onto the bases. And then, we scored point after point. In one inning alone, we scored six. And suddenly we were ahead, and suddenly we were way ahead, and suddenly we had won 15-5.

But before we ultimately won, sometime around the top of the seventh inning, when we were just killing it, the kids were all standing and screaming, and with every home they would start singing our school song.

We aren’t known for having a particularly enthusiastic student body when it comes to singing the school song. Often they are stopped midway through by the music teacher who singles out a grade to sing louder, sing more in tune, try harder. I’ve never heard them sing with such passion and pride.

At that moment–the top of the seventh inning, surrounded by my wild students and my dedicated coworkers–I was thinking, there is nowhere on Earth I would rather be.

At no point in my life were sings pointing to me living in Japan. In fact, I studied Chinese politics in university, so to move to the country that has an openly antagonistic relationship with the one I dedicated my undergraduate career to was a bit of a mysterious move on my part.

In fact, I almost moved to China and just continued my life studying Chinese. I had accepted a job in Wuhan after a long application process to a fairly prestigious program. But something nagged at me, and that something pushed and prodded at me until I picked up the phone and told the Chinese program I had changed my mind. I had also gotten into JET and I was going to move to Japan.

That something was actually a someone, and that someone’s name is Kathryn.

I left New York for university in Chicago when I was 17, and I was a child. I in no way resembled an adult, a grown up, a person who could really be responsible for themselves. I didn’t even understand how much of a child I was, really. No matter how much my mouth asserted its often petulant desire for independence, that wasn’t what I really wanted, nor what I was prepared to have.

Kathryn was initially an intimidating woman I did an independent research study with because I think I had run out of Asian politics classes to take. For one thing, she asked me to call her Kathryn, which struck me as an undeserved privilege. For that entire semester I felt like I was some crazy imposter who she was putting up with because she didn’t actually know how deeply unremarkable and incapable I was. I was awkward, shy, spoke too quietly and often too much, and had too many undeveloped thoughts that I was disguising as research. I didn’t actually know how to de research.

For some reason–every time I see her I try to find out, and she never really tells me–she decided she liked me. I took more classes with her, did more independent studies, found excuses to hang out in her office even though she wasn’t my advisor and I didn’t have a long-term interest in studying Japan. Japan struck me as an interesting place, but ultimately didn’t have the dynamism that China did. I felt engaged and curious when I read about Japan, but I didn’t have the fevered near-obsession for it that I did with China. I read everything about China. Everything. I watched every Chinese movie I could find, including really terrible ones, and I studied like crazy. Japan, I liked for its literature and for its avant-garde 60s films (some things haven’t) changed.

When it came to post-graduation, I didn’t want to go straight to graduate school, and I didn’t want to work for the government, and I didn’t know what I wanted. Logically, I thought, China. Kathryn, true to form, thought about what was logical and said, “Yeah okay, but what about Japan?”

I’m not really sure what led me to apply to JET other than peer pressure. I do remember a conversation with Kathryn and her assistant, who would later become one of my best friends (this thank you note includes you too, in a very big way, Lilly), where they said, well just apply for now and if you decide you don’t want to go you can turn them down. It doesn’t hurt to just apply, right?

Here I am, three years deep in Tokyo with no concrete plans to leave. Go figure.

And I often bitch about Japan. Actually, living here has made me feel completely crazy a lot of the time, and there are many aspects of Japanese culture that make me want to leave and never return. If you ask me, I generally say that I just don’t think we’re a good fit, Japan and I. We’re too different, even though there are parts I love so much.

If you don’t ask, and you just look at my life, you might see a different story.

When I moved here, I intended to stay a year because this was meant to be an exploration only and I was in a very committed relationship with someone in America. In the end, I broke up with her because staying in Japan became more important. And eventually I moved to a neighborhood I fell in love with, and I made friends, and before I knew it America was less and less of a home to me. All but a handful of my friends live here. All my stuff is here. I’m (still) here.

And most importantly, I fell so in love with my school. That is really what keeps me renewing my contract. These students mean everything to me, and I would do anything for them. In fact, they have taught me far more than I am probably even capable of teaching them.

They taught me about what it means to be responsible for someone other than myself, and to want to love and protect someone other than myself. Obviously I don’t have kids, but I imagine it’s somewhat similar. Even if I lose out personally–in sleep, in free time–as long as it helps them somehow I’ll do it without hesitation. For them, I learned how to confidently present myself in front of a group, to work with the mood of 40 people so that we’re all working to the same thing. I learned how to be an instructor and a role model and sometimes a bit of a friend to the kids. I learned how to work with people I don’t like for the sake of the kids, and how to set an example of the kind of person to be even when I wanted to do something childish and selfish.

Basically, I’m trying to become for my students what Kathryn was for me–slightly antagonistic, but ultimately supportive, loyal, and self-sacrificing. Even in the little things, I try to be like her–I usually feed my kids when they come talk to me, and I gossip with them even as I periodically thrown in, “This never leaves this room you guys! I mean it!”

So I’ve got these two things to thank her for–sending me to Japan (I always joke that it was against my will, but it really wasn’t not…) and giving me an example of the kind of adult I want to become. In fact, there’s an addendum to that last one as we talked about adulthood in a senior discussion class I teach, and one girl wrote in her reflection essay: “I want to be a woman like Katy who is kind to everyone, trilingual, and a hard worker.” Certainly I have a lot of people to thank for being that kind of person, but you can bet Kathryn is near the top of that list.

In some (well, two) ways, I feel like I had a more (stereo)typical parental relationship with Kathryn than with my parents, who were always telling me to do whatever I wanted as long as it made me happy, and to whom I have always been really intentional and explicit in my gratitude.

In one way, Kathryn has always had a vision for me that I haven’t really wanted to pursue (phD in Japanese studies, certain partnerships, etc.), and when I told her I wanted to be a filmmaker I thought she would repeat her desire for me to start applying to graduate schools. I held her up as this person whose vision I could kind of rebel against, but true to form she just said she hoped I’d be happy making films.

In the second way, I never really said thank you. Actually, every time I see her I complain a lot about Japan, or my head is just somewhere else. And it occurred to me that while I think I’m voicing legitimate problems I have with living here, it’s probably just coming across really ungraciously. My life here has been crazy, and some of that is because of cultural quirks, but it’s also because of a lot of other things that have nothing to do with Japan. And when it comes down to it, I like it here. Nothing makes me happier than going to work six days a week and having my precious Sundays in Koenji to myself. I don’t mean that hyperbolically. I mean, nothing makes me happier.

So even beyond all the deep shit about the kind of adult I want to be etc etc, I literally wouldn’t be here, on a mini-sofa in Koenji if it weren’t for Kathryn. I wouldn’t be in this extremely cool neighborhood, surrounded by friendly and kind people, and I wouldn’t have had the chances to go to so many beautiful places. I wouldn’t have met the people I work with, and had all the crazy experiences that have turned me into the person writing this post. I certainly wouldn’t know Japanese, which is a wild thing to me, still, that I can just go see a Japanese movie like, real casually.

And above all, I wouldn’t have spent a perfect afternoon yesterday cheering as my kids crushed the other team in their first baseball game of the season.

From Each According to their Privilege, to Each According to their Needs

It’s the 4th of July, and I’m thinking about immigration.

I’m thinking about my own immigration, and the immigration policies of the current American administration, and what a nation should stand for, who it has a responsibility to stand for.

Early this morning, I went to Kunitachi, which is a small stop on the Chuo line near Tachikawa, and I walked six minutes from the bus stop to an overgrown, run down, trash-covered drive. The drive ended in a corrugated metal wall, and perpendicular to the wall was the immigration bureau for western Tokyo. I waited in line for an hour and a half to be seen about extending my visa, and when I submitted my papers it turned out I was missing something. It was just a tax form from before I moved to my new apartment, and the agent gave me a pre-paid envelope to send to the bureau later.

I am in no way praising Japan’s immigration policies or processes. In fact, I have recently been thinking about how Japan escapes strangely unscathed from discussions in the news about immigration, refugees, racism, and all manner of social and politics offenses racked up by other “developed” countries. That’s a different post though, I think.

However, as an American immigrating just about anywhere, the process is easy. In terms of travel, people often say that an American passport will get you anywhere in the world (except Iran, which my friend has trouble visiting even though his family is Iranian). Maybe you need to apply for a visa first, but unless you do something crazy or illegal, nothing stands in your way as long as you have an American passport. In fact, I knew some people in China who did things that were both crazy and illegal, and they were permitted to stay in the country. To me, the definition of privilege is when the Chinese Communist Party turns a blind eye.

Being an American moving to a foreign country is also incredibly easy. At the immigration office, everything was in Japanese and English. Because Japan is a xenophobic little archipelago, when you rent an apartment the real estate agent must make sure that landlords will rent to foreigners. However, I listened to my agent explicitly reassure many landlords that I was American, not from the Middle East or anywhere in Africa, and there was little problem.

While I was not excited to go to immigration this morning, I knew there would be no problem. There is no conceivable reason why I would be denied a visa. I can even travel out of the country while it is being processed, which means I can go on vacation in Paris in a few weeks, hop over to London, and come back to Tokyo with no incident. If I had infinite time and money, I could even stop in China because Americans get a special visa that lasts 10 years now.

As an American*, I feel like I can do anything. I can go anywhere. I can move anywhere, provided I can get a job. And in Japan, at least, no one tells me to learn their language or go back to where I came from. Actually, I wish they would because people constantly assuming I am a tourist is really annoying and yes, offensive. But it’s offensive in the most benign sense of the word.

As an American, I have all the privileges this world has can offer. And America itself, when it comes to offering these privileges to others, is one of the stingiest countries in the world.

When I say I can see why so many people want to move to America, to become Americans, it’s not out of love for the country. Rather, it’s just an economical assessment of the world’s balance of power.

Take the average American’s image of an immigrant–a Mexican or South American person who probably lived in unstable conditions and decided to try to escape to America across the border. First of all, no one would do something so dangerous unless they had literally no other choice. Similarly, in Europe, no one gets on a tiny fucking boat and tries to escape to Italy because they felt like going for a sail.

Second of all, if you are weighing your options of where you can live if not your home country, does America not seem ideal? America, as it likes to remind the world loudly and often, is the leader of the free world, where rights are inalienable, where all children get an education, where everyone has enough food to eat, where houses are massive, where your passport will open the door to every other country. Is it any wonder that people want to come, with such a beautiful myth being told? Particularly if you have children, whose futures you care about more than your own present, as any parent would.

But when faced with these people who have bought the myth that America sells itself and the world, what does the American government do?

It turns them away. It deports them. It divides families. If it lets them in, it turns around and spits in their faces and says that they are uneducated, that they are dangerous, that they are coming for our women, that they are rapists and child molesters, that they need to learn our fucking language and get a job like the rest of us and stop leeching off of our taxes.

The last point is particularly funny to me, like not in a haha way but in a surrealist way.

To digress slightly: one of my students is writing a (totally kickass) essay on the society she wants to be realized. She watches the Japanese equivalent of C-Span in her free time and counts how many politicians are sleeping. She reads the news about all the sex and bribery and corruption scandals in the Japanese government. She wonders where her parents taxes go, and who is using them for personal gain. In her ideal society, politicians work for the people, and get paid a livable salary without all the extra perks they currently enjoy. In her ideal society, people can follow clearly where their taxes go, and the taxes go back to the people.

Most Americans have no idea where their taxes go. What most Americans can accurately surmise, however, is that their taxes do not go back to the people. If they did, upper class schools would not be losing their arts funding, lower class schools would not be in literal derelict buildings, every city in America would have drinkable water, towns would not stow nuclear waste in open containers, roads would be paved.

And yet, when it comes to the issue of immigration, or hell, even just raising American citizens out of poverty, people cry for their taxes. How can our hard-earned money go to support people who can’t even speak English? (This is something I hear in relation to actual immigrants and also poor Blacks, who are considered not to really speak English.)

So where is your hard-earned money going now?

And the thing about this is that, for now, the middle and upper classes in America can afford not to know the answer. Because they still enjoy so many, many privileges. Even my parents, who have struggled financially, cannot even imagine how the lower classes in American live. Certainly, my parents have legitimate problems. They have legitimately suffered. But they have never had their lives threatened in the way that the poor have. And their daughter has never had her immigration status questioned in any country where she has lived.

Americans enjoy unique privileges at home and abroad. Our job then, when someone wants a seat at this particular table of ours (which, by the way, we have talked up as being the absolute best table, with the best food and the best view of the rest of the party, and also the best company), is not to look down on them from our position of privilege and say, “Yeah, you wish you were us.”

It’s the same as the classic labor issue–when two employees doing the same job have different salaries, the impulse is to say that the person with the higher salary doesn’t deserve it for doing the same work as the person with the lower salary. In fact, the right thing to do is to demand that both workers get the higher salary.

To return to our table, then, our job is to reach out and pull everyone who wants a seat up to sit with us. And that extends to other American citizens. This is perhaps stretching the metaphor but–our table is so much higher than everyone else’s because it is resting on the backs of our own citizens. First, we used slaves as a foundation, and then we stacked the poor classes on top of each other, and we in the middle and upper classes perched our table on our backs and said, “Look what a fine position we’ve got.”

Of course, if we lift up those one whom the table rests–those who go to the schools in the derelict buildings, those whose streets are not paved, those who do not have clean drinking water and live side by side with barrels of nuclear waste–our position probably will get lower. It costs money to pave roads, to clean the water, to support immigrants and refugees and their families.

But if that isn’t worth “our hard-earned taxes”, then what is?  A politician’s salary? Our inflated defence budget built to sustain wars that no one wants and that have actually created the refugee crisis? America is in a unique position because other countries do follow America’s example (for better or for worse). A country as powerful as America choosing to put aside profit, pride, and pure nationalism to accept immigrants and refugees could go so far.

And if perhaps, we have less food at our table when more people are sitting with us–do we need all the food we have now? Literally speaking, America is one of the biggest sources of food waste in the world. Metaphorically speaking, it is better to live at subsistence level if it means helping others than to live excessively while others suffer.

The last thing I want to do is appeal to nationalism to make the case for supporting immigrants. But America prides itself so much on what an amazing way of life it offers its citizens. Not only does that come with the huge caveat of citizens* (*middle- and upper-class, preferably white and suburban), but it is something which is refused to those who honestly seek it as per government policy.

Those words on the bottom of the Statue of Liberty–Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!–have had dubious truthiness since they were first carved.  But holding up my experience at immigration today next to the literally endless headlines on government-sanctioned offences committed against immigrants on American soil, I can’t help thinking–they have never been less true.

 

*gotta definitely qualify that by saying as an able-bodied white American from the upper middle class

Not Some Dude’s Plot Point: Women in Film

How many women have to die, get beaten, get raped to advance some dude’s character development? Is there no other possible motivation a man could have to start walking in a new direction? Is there some rule that it’s a man who must do the walking?

It’s difficult watching films said to be great, reading books said to be great, when you realize that the people most similar to you are the ones used as fodder to drive the plot forward.

Yesterday, I went to see Throw Away Your Books, Run Out Into the Streets, by Terayama Shuji. I hardly understand any of his work, but I love the atmosphere, and especially the surrealist sequences in Throw Away Your Books accompanied by old Japanese punk bands.

What made me uncomfortable, first, and then angry, was the scene where the main character’s sister is gang raped in the locker room where a lot of the film’s social action takes place. This is not extremely graphic, but it’s a very long scene, and once it’s over it serves as a catalyst for much of the second half of the film.

The person this catalyst serves, however, is naturally the main character. His sister basically loses her mind for a bit, and then ends up in an apparently unhealthy sexual relationship with the main character’s mentor figure by the end of the film. The main character, however, continues to grow and drive forward the action of the film, his anarchical energy given focus by what has happened to his sister.

This is only one of so many examples. In too many films and TV shows, the action is spurred on as a woman is sacrificed literally or emotionally, as in Bad TimingDiary of a Shinjuku Thief, Breaking BadHow to Talk to Girls at Parties, or Deep End. In some notable examples, like Twin Peaks, there would be no action at all if it were not for the death or injury of a young woman at the very beginning of the story.

If women aren’t killed or made to bear the emotional injuries of the male main character’s development, then often they are simply sexual props or pawns of romantic duels between two men.Towards the beginning of Throw Away Your Books the main character visits a brothel with his mentor-figure (who later ends up banging his sister). He has his first sexual experience there, even though he freaks out and bolts similar to the main character of Deep End.

This is particular, I think, to coming of age films, where a woman helps awaken a man to his sexuality with little or no regard to her own self as a character. Examples I can think of off the top of my head include RushmoreDeep EndYesterdayAmerican Beauty, Tada Takashi, Garden StateA Brighter Summer’s Day, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. A lot of these are great movies that I loved, but I can’t imagine a woman being allowed to behave the way the male protagonists do.

Then, why don’t we ever really see the female equivalent of a first sexual experience, a growth into adulthood?

For many women, adulthood is not something we are permitted to transition into. Translated to film, we are not permitted to become adults over the course of an engaging narrative arc that ties together politics and art and society.

Adulthood is something forced on a girl, often against her consent. Sometimes  it is with her consent but in the greater context of an unequal power dynamic, as in An Education. There are very few examples of healthy coming of age stories for girls.

If women are taking control of their own sexual experiences on film, it is usually at the hands of a male director, and molded to satisfy the male gaze (I am thinking of everything by Lars von Trier specifically). Blue is the Warmest Color, while extremely dear to my heart, is a more tame example.

In other words, women on film are often not in control of their destinies. Women are there to support or inspire men, are preyed on and taken advantage by men, or are directed in their own stories for the pleasure of the men in the movie theaters. There are countless films where this is not the case, but not nearly enough to outweigh the subjugation of women on film as an institution.

To see some very good examples of women directed by women most likely for the viewing of other women, please check out this post.

 

Listening to Women’s Voices: Film

Hello, this is part two of my quest to bring attention to creative women in a world dominated by the voices of men.

Film is, of course, the subject dearest to my heart. It is my greatest hope in the world that when someone Googles “women film directors” my name comes up some day. (It is my other greatest hope that no one will have to Google something like that in the future).

Three years ago, I couldn’t have named more than two female directors.

Actually, I couldn’t have named more than one, and that one was Sophia Coppola, and I think 80% of the reason I say I like her is because I need someone to look up to and 20% is her aesthetic. I am pretty sure her latest movie actually failed the Bechdel test so I I’m not even sure I can still claim to like her.

My love of film is such that the sheer volume of movies I watch in a month means that, statistically speaking, most of the movies I watch were directed by men. I am embarrassed to say that I think all of my top 10 favorite movies were directed by men.

Similar to the literature list, this is incomplete and missing some really big names (because I either haven’t watched them, or because I don’t like them). Also, as reviews these comments about each director are basically nonsense. Instead, please think of this as impressions about 10 very great directors that you should check out. The film titles in parentheses are the films by each director that I have actually seen.

  1. Agnes Varda (Cleo from 5 to 7, Vagabond, Happiness, Agnes at the Beach)

I first saw Agnes at the Beach, a documentary/memoir about her career, her relationship with Jacques Demy, and her life philosophy at a basement screening in Beijing. I was there to see a different film, which ended up not being screened for some reason, and so I watched this one and a movie about a girl in Sichuan. (I think the one from Sichuan was really good too and also directed by a woman.) I was totally captivated by Varda narrating her life through surrealist re-stagings of important memories. Her fiction films are also beautiful, with very little action but a lot of inner turmoil expressed with a delicate hand. Her characters aren’t necessarily sympathetic people, but they feel very real.

2. Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night)

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is an intensely badass movie with some of the most stunning cinematography. It’s an Iranian vampire western with a killer soundtrack and lighting that made me want to scream back when I didn’t know shit about lighting. The scene where White Lies’ Death is playing and the main character vampire lady is in her room with the human guy is tense and sexy and nerve-wracking.

3. Lone Scherfig (An Education, Their Finest, Italian For Beginners)

Honestly, I’m not sure what Scherfig’s deal is because at one point she was making movies with the Dogme 95 movement and at another she was making heartbreaking (I’m not using this word lightly) romance movies. Their Finest made me cry so much, and I was sitting next to someone I had recently met so the entire final 20 minutes of that movie will forever be associated, for me, with quiet tears and sinus pain. I want to be a director like her because she clearly makes whatever the hell she wants and doesn’t stick to one theme from film to film. Whatever genre she is working in at the moment, she excels at it and then moves on to her next interest.

4. Maren Ade (Toni Erdmann)

While I have only seen one of her films it left such a strangely large impact on me. When I first saw Toni Erdmann I thought, okay that was interesting, and then I went home.  But I can’t stop thinking about it. I saw it last September and it’s just so stuck in my head. The relationship of the main character to her father, her breaking point that made me want to simultaneously cry and laugh, and the scene where she sings “The Greatest Love” while her father plays piano were incredibly impactful. I really admire anyone who can make a movie that maybe isn’t enjoyable, but changes the direction of your life forces just a bit.

5. Dee Rees (Mudbound, Pariah)

Full disclosure, I have not seen Mudbound. Pariah, however, was an incredible movie that I saw while I was studying abroad in China. I watched it during a period of watching literally any piece of queer cinema I could find, but unlike most of queer cinema, Pariah actually had developed characters who had compelling stories and really happy moments embedded in a difficult narrative. Maybe the ending isn’t so satisfying and happy, but it’s all the more comforting knowing that this film is willing to talk about life in a straight up way.

6. Celine Sciamma (Girlhood, Water Lillies)

I first saw Water Lillies in high school, and I remember it really freaked me out. I believe I was in a(nother) period of watching as many queer films as I could find (shout out also to Alice Wu’s Saving Face, which is so cute and life-affirming, which I also watched at that time). Girlhood made a much stronger and more positive impact on me. Sciamma’s girls are not perfect, and are not forced to be strong and independent. They’re extremely vulnerable and make stupid, teenage mistakes and learn painful, adult lessons.

7. Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake)

I am grateful to me ex for making me watch Monsoon Wedding, because it initially didn’t seem like my kind of movie but was actually really excellent. I don’t like family dramas so much because I think character development gets lost in overly large plot arcs, but this movie managed to have plenty of drama as well as characters you could become invested in. In a happy connection to me previous women’s voices post, she also directed the film adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake.

8. Deepa Mehta (Fire, Water, Earth)

Honestly, Fire was such a depressing movie but I think it’s really worth watching. Such terrible things happen to the main (queer) characters, but it’s important to watch hardship when it’s not being told in a melodramatic, tearjerking way. Mehta’s films are honest, yet raw, and subdued, yet firm in telling their messages.

8. Amy Seimetz (Sun Don’t Shine)

Recently, Seimetz seems to be focussing more on TV, and I liked her episodes of The Girlfriend Experience. Her name first caught my attention when I saw her starring in Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color. Her directorial debut, Sun Don’t Shine, came out about a year later and I saw it in theaters with my college roommate. We were (are) both really into female vengeance narratives or any other story where a woman goes off the rails, and Sun Don’t Shine really fit into that category well. Ever since watching this film, I have been a little bit scared of Florida. Seimetz builds atmosphere incredibly, and draws you deep into a narrative you wish you could look away from.

10. Jennifer Phang (Advantageous)

To date, Phang has only one film out, but it’s a good one. As a bit of a sci-fi freak it’s unusual to watch something that feels really unique and doesn’t sacrifice character development for an overly complicated plot, or vice versa. Advantageous is a really scary, sympathetic movie that also manages to highlight issues of sexism and ageism in a movie that is not simply social commentary or sci-fi speculation.

+1 (because Phang only has one movie) Ildiko Enyedi (On Body and Soul)

On Body and Soul initially seemed like a very weird movie for a date. In fact, it is but I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t been invited. And what a loss it would have been! The premise is so strange, that I think it’s better to watch this film knowing nothing of its story. It’s perspectives on love, romance, and human relationships are beautiful and cringingly awkward and feel all the more authentic in their absurdity.

As before, if you have recommendations of women directors, please please please let me know somehow, someway. Some honorable mentions (mainly of people I haven’t watched but who I know must be amazing):

Claire Denis, Chantal Akerman, Miwa Nishikawa, Momoka Ando, Ava DuVernay, Jane Campion, Alice Wu, Lynne Ramsay, Kearan Pang, Yuki Tanada.

The Human Cost of Capitalism

Right before I worked myself up into such a froth of quiet frustration that I had to stand in the kitchen and make coffee in such a way that broadcast “PLEASE DO NOT SPEAK TO ME” to my office of 60 people, I read this article in The Guardian.

Foxconn is a familiar name to us in the global North (or whatever we are calling ourselves these days) from the suicides a few years back in connection to the manufacture of Apple products. Everyone was outraged, fingers were pointed at China and shaken accusingly, and some even had the sense to lay the blame (not legally, of course) on Apple itself.

Once again, Foxconn is abusing workers’ rights, this time in the manufacture of Amazon products. The Guardian article has all the details, so please give it a read.

This is what I was thinking, and what made me so angry (among other, unrelated things, like the fact that I can’t seem to convince my students that Africa is not one starving country in desperate need of salvation):

Okay, the majority of people will read this article and think, oh how terrible. Those poor Chinese workers. And then they will read all the other alarming and tragic news and they will shelve it in their minds because literally no one can properly mull over everything going wrong and still get through their day. It’s understandable, if unfortunate.

Whenever I read this kind of thing I think, in an ideal world what could any of us actually do to make any kind of difference?

And I think in the West we are told that we can boycott companies that are operating in unfair or unjust ways, just like we can sanction countries that aren’t behaving themselves according to the unspoken dictates of the hegemon.

However, thinking about who really loses in a boycott exposes its inherent inefficacy. Because let’s say we stop buying Amazon products. We want to put pressure on Amazon to start treating its workers better, so we put out money elsewhere. We buy a Kobo and skip out on the whole Alexa thing.

The people who are going to lose out in this case are those same abused workers. Because if Amazon starts losing money, you can bet Jeff Bezos will be fine. Shareholders will be fine. To make up any losses, Amazon will simply shut down factories, lay off workers, lay off other wage employees like delivery workers. Meanwhile, everyone at the top will be carefully insulated from any repercussions.

And maybe if Jeff Bezos lived in the same country as the workers manufacturing all of his wonderful gifts to humanity, then laying off a bunch of people who weren’t being treated well in the first place might come round back to him in the form of protests.

But the workers are in China, and I can’t say for sure but I am fairly confident that Jeff Bezos can neither pronounce Hunan, nor distinguish it from Henan, nor bring himself to care about Chinese countryside people.

The same goes for any unethically operated company, from H&M to Apple, or any country we’re sanctioning like Iran. The people who will suffer are always the ones at the bottom. The people with the power know how to insulate themselves.

So even if any of us rallied ourselves enough to actually try to do something in solidarity with the Foxconn workers like withdrawing support from major companies, we won’t be changing anything. In fact, we’ll be making things slightly worse.

That, to my understanding, is why there can be no ethical consumption under capitalism. Because capitalism is a zero sum game, and it’s rigged to always let the winners keep winning.

Listening to Women’s Voices: Books

Thoroughly incapable of casually browsing a Japanese bookstore (or understanding why they are organized by publisher, of all things), I asked trusted coworkers their favorite writers.

One Japanese lit teacher I asked showed me the names of people she liked who appeared in this year’s Contemporary Japanese textbook and then, after a pause, said with some embarrassment, “They’re all women writers…”

And I said, “That’s great, I have no interest in men’s voices.”

It was kind of a joke, but it’s also not.

I think every woman alive has had that moment where they think about their favorite films and books and realize an astonishingly large amount are created by men.

Now, we could talk about how what matters is the narrative not the gender of the person who wrote it, and we could talk about quotas, and how you can’t promote the voice of a substandard woman over a man just to give women a chance.

But it’s 2018, and we’re past that fucking conversation I hope.

Women’s voices are not heard. We have made progress. This progress is the topographical equivalent of an anthill in a side-by-side comparison with Mt. Fuji.

My rule at the library now is to check out as many books as I can physically carry, but a woman writer must always be included.

This is harder than it seems, and not just because the selection at the local library isn’t stunningly vast.

In the meantime, I have thought of books I have loved or books that have challenged me, and I have made a list of women writers who I liked or who made me think. I Googled other people’s lists, but a lot of the writers were from the last two centuries and were obvious choices. Of course, I understand the brilliance of Virginia Woolf, but she’s not all that’s out there, right?

So in no particular order, if you too are sick and tired of men and their voices and their voices talking about women and themselves and other bullshit, some women writers:

  1. Banana Yoshimoto

Banana Yoshimoto is one of my favorite writers period. Four or so years ago, I read Kitchen, and then every other thing she wrote that has been translated into English. Very little happens in her books, but they feel profound and revealing, less for what they show about the author or her characters, and more for that they show you about yourself. Above all, I love the atmosphere of her books, which forces you to be very quiet and still in yourself, and think about what really is important in this little life you’ve got going on.

I appreciate especially that a lot of her main characters are women at loose ends. They aren’t in states of panic, but they often have some strange listlessness holding them back from the world of normal people. It’s refreshing to see women like this, with problems that don’t amount to nervous breakdowns or thriller-esque psychoses (I am looking at you, Gone Girl, which I also love, but just not in the same way).

2. Miaojin Qiu

I don’t have anything to say about her. I have never read anything so personally meaningful. Her work isn’t for everyone, and also it’s very brutal. Maybe not the best choice if you are in a fragile state of mind, but in her ability to devastate, Qiu shows a solidarity that women (particularly queer women) are almost never afforded. Notes of a Crocodile is my favorite book, full stop.

3. Amy Bloom

I have only read one book of her short stories, and I read it yesterday so I haven’t had a lot of time to sit with it. However, I was so deeply impressed by her characters. Her women were fully formed, some brutally unmaternal and selfish, some falling over themselves to find unlikely human connections, all terribly human. I especially loved her women who appeared to have lost their manual for how to live in a society as an accepted adult sometime at birth, because their disjointedness with the world was so familiar and realistically undramatic.

4. Miranda July

The same disclaimer and same praise as above applies to Miranda July. I have been reading a lot of interesting criticism of her work that has called her whimsical and compared to Noah Baumbach, but as much as I love and adore and live my life by Frances Ha, the characters in her short stories are anything but whimsical, and infinitely more real than anyone Baumbach has created. Her women are so destructive and willful, and totally unlike anything women are usually allowed to be. Her realism is what Wes Anderson’s and Baumbach’s films, Ruby Sparks, and every other dude-propelled indie story are cute facsimile’s of. (She’s also a director, hence the film comparisons.) I would be afraid to encounter her women in real life, even as I recognize myself in most of them with simultaneous fear and relief.

5. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I read Americanah in one sitting when I was as far from America as I could be, physically (bullet train through Chinese countryside, 2014). It’s a cliche to talk about how books “transport” you, but I felt immediately like I was back home in New York while being shown a side of New York I had never experienced. The New York of a black woman from Nigeria is vastly different from the New York of an upper middle class white child, but it’s also not in some ways, and the intersection of those two worlds in the same spot on Earth was revealing. The way in which we approach place and in which place imprints on us is uniquely different, and changes according to race, gender, sexuality, and class. Adichie’s book is such a good representation of that fact, and such an enjoyable one.

6. Ying Hong

This is another situation where I read one book of Hong’s and then read everything else she wrote. I was so determined, I requested her collection of short stories, A Lipstick Called Red Pepper from some other university across the country under seriously dubious pretexts and waited weeks for it. I can’t say I understood the stories, and being stories on young queer Chinese women in the late 20th century they weren’t written for me anyway, but I loved them. Of her novels, I especially loved Summer of Betrayal for its political themes that were expository but not didactic; exciting, but not melodramatic.

7. Jhumpa Lahiri

I really appreciate Lahiri’s work for a similar reason that I appreciate Adichie’s, which is that it shows me a side of my home that I don’t have personal experience with. Lahiri’s characters are the children of immigrants, going to university, falling in love, trying and often failing to understand their parents, falling out of love… With such light strokes, Lahiri illustrates complex characters whose grievances and precious things stretch backwards and forwards across generations. Also, The Namesake was made into a really, really good movie that my mom got completely sucked into a few years ago when I was watching it.

8. Jincy Willet

I first read Willet’s short story collection Jenny and the Jaws of Life, and honestly the stories creeped me out and made me feel weird and not good. But at the same time, she completely snagged me, and I remember speeding through The Writing Class while sitting in the window sill of my first apartment, which is not even a comfortable place to sit. She’s really not popular, and I guess I can see why because reading her book feels like she has engineered a story to make you feel uncomfortable and is watching you through a microscope while you squirm. I don’t know about you, but I like that feeling. It feels like a challenge, and it forced me to think about why I was uncomfortable, and why certain kinds of behavior are considered inappropriate or weird.

9. Norma Field

Norma Field’s is an academic and a translator, but she has written two autobiographical books. In the Realm of the Dying Emperor is not so autobiographical I guess, but she writes about Japan’s relationship to the emperor after World War II with a kind of sensitivity that is not really found in academic writing. From My Grandmother’s Bedside is definitely autobiographical, on Field’s childhood and early adulthood growing up as the child of a Japanese woman and an American GI. Her descriptions of everything are gentle and sharp at the same time, and I fell so deeply in love with the world she wrote about. (And not really relatedly, I met her once because she was the mentor to one of my favorite professors, and she was so nice and elegant.)

10. Xiaolu Guo

I can see now that my Chinese politics degree has biased my literary choices, but I think if it weren’t for that degree I wouldn’t know any Chinese writers, and that’s really a shame. Xiaolu Guo is, in my mind, linked to Hong Ying thematically, as both women write about youth in China with traumatic pasts trying to make sense of their country’s new modern age. I especially liked Village of Stone, which for some reason reminded me of Mishima’s The Sound of Waves.

 

So these are ten women I’ve been fortunate enough to stumble across or have recommended to me, but if you have any women writers to recommend, please please let me know! Also, women I’d like to mention but who I didn’t feel I could write well enough about/ran out of room to write about:

Ursula K. LeGuin, Yiyun Li, Margaret Atwood, Diane Wei Liang, Mizuki Tsujimura, Kyoko Okazaki (manga), Kiriko Nananan (manga), Gillian Flynn, Toni Morrison, Isabelle Allende, Maxine Hong Kingston, Nadine Gordimer, Shamim Sarif.

 

How to Untether Yourself from the Zeitgeist in 4 Easy Steps

If I could go back in time to visit myself in high school, there are so many things I would like to say. At this moment, I would like to do two things. The first is to share a laugh over how saying “zeitgeist” unironically still feels really pretentious and douchey. I first learned the word junior year of high school in AP English Language. We discussed the zeitgeist with the enthusiasm-disguised-as-detached-boredom that was So In back then.

The other is to appreciate the irony of my sudden transformation into a technology-fearing Luddite.

That’s probably too severe and ungenerous, but I also almost bought a cassette player recently, so.

In high school, it was popular (as it is in every age I guess) to blame technology for our biggest social problems. Our teachers taught us to think is, in so many words, and we dutifully repeated this opinion in our Socratic seminars (as they were called), in that self-congratulatory way of young liberals who think they are so much more advanced than other American because they are from New York and read the news and take many AP classes. We had our fingers on the pulse of the zeitgeist.

I was always that contradictory jerk kid who everyone has been in a class with before. I was always arguing that technology was expanding our horizons, and enabling us to connect with people we might never otherwise meet. It was making us more social, and better educated since we could learn about anything, anytime, with no restrictions.

I do still believe that. I do still believe it is the user of the tool, not the tool itself that ultimately is to blame for any problems that arise. Operator error.

Recently, though, I feel I’ve been regressing. I suppose whether I should call it regressing depends on your assessment of the situation, but I had no phone for a month in March and it was very peaceful and not at all a struggle. I told my friends exactly where I would be and when and we would meet up. I looked at the bus maps that are printed on boards on the street. I asked for directions. I thought about never fixing my phone.

But this isn’t some self-congratulatory piece about how I “”disconnected”” for a month and felt like, so totally liberated, you know?

If we move past the juvenile problem of whether phones are eating our brains and move into the more 21st century wilder-than-we-imagined scifi-esque technology of Echo and Alexa, it becomes a more interesting discussion

Yesterday, I read this really fascinating piece on Racked about what taste and style are, and how those conceptions might change based on our increasing reliance on algorithms.

You should definitely read the piece for yourself, but the part I want to talk about is how we form our tastes apart from algorithms when algorithms are an inherent part of every service we use regularly.

I’m probably not actually going to throw my phone in the ocean and get a cassette player, but I do loathe algorithms and targeted advertising. And I do think everything converging into a Generic Style is bad. To that end, I’ve thought of four ways to concretely do what Kyle Chayka imagines our future could be:

a little more analog. I imagine a future in which our clothes, music, film, art, books come with stickers like organic farmstand produce: Algorithm Free.

  1. On Books and Movies

Don’t buy shit on Amazon. Don’t stream anything. Don’t do it.

First of all, streaming a movie is well and good for people who don’t have a lot of money or can’t afford to take the time to go to the movie theater. But for people who can afford to do so, for the love of god just go to the movies. Movies shouldn’t be watched on tiny screens while you scroll Instagram.

If you go to the movie theater and watch anything that looks kind of interesting (without first reading the reviews!) at least ten times, probably seven of those movies won’t be what you would have otherwise watched. You might hate them, or feel weird, or scared. But those are feelings you wouldn’t get if you just went with Next Up Under Recommendations for You or If You Liked Sing Street You Might Like God Help The Girl.

Bypassing a streaming service and going to the movie theater is a much more challenging and ultimately rewarding experience. And yeah, I say this as a movie fanatic who goes to the theater twice a week, but I have been so blown away by movies I would never have watched at home, and have been reduced to tears by 3 hour family dramas that totally do not fit into my carefully calculated Netflix tastes.

I’m not talking about big cinemas, to be clear, but those weird little independent guys that play new releases and Italian neorealist shit. I think if you live in America, art museums play movies sometimes too.

The same goes for bookstores–just go and wander the shelves. Don’t let Titles Similar to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle dictate what you read next. Especially used bookstores, because the selection is extra eclectic and things are usually sorted by more intriguing genres than Mystery, Scifi, etc.

2. On Music

Similar to above, I’d say going to a record store is one of the best ways to find new music. Even if you don’t have a record player at home, they usually let you listen to whatever you want in the store with headphones, and it’s easier to judge cool album art on a vinyl than a digital file. Also, the people who work at record stores generally have really out-there tastes and are usually happy to talk about it, so you can get good recommendations from a real human.

Going to shows for bands you don’t know can also be a good method to find new music, but it’s expensive usually, and requires a lot of effort, so please proceed with this method at your own risk.

3. On Fashion

First, give Zara, H&M, the Gap, etc etc etc a hard pass. We all know about their unethical labor practices by now, and we all know that capitalism is bad, and so on and so on.

If you have loads of money, boutique stores curated by specific humans are a good option. If, like most of us, you do not, thrift stores are an even better option. By not buying something new, you sort of elide participation in the market economy (to some degree). You also don’t have everything in the store all designed according to the latest “trend”, and you don’t have sections sorted together so you can buy an entire outfit all at once, as styled by Zara.

You have to take way more time to comb through the crazy shitstorm that is most thrift stores, but you’re much more likely to end up with something you really love and that’s really you instead of 2018’s loud, contrasting patterns, or 2016’s souvenir jackets.

Second, get inspiration from somewhere other than the Internet. Go to an art museum, if you are capable of receiving inspiration from abstract sources. If you aren’t, like me, then watch movies. A lot of my favorite clothes are things that I saw someone wear in a movie I loved (generally, anything from Krzysztof Kieslowski or Edward Yang). Or listen to music. I have a beloved black jumpsuit, which I refer to as my spacesuit, that I usually wear with a translucent belt because the ensemble reminded me of David Bowie.

4. Talk to People

If I am being honest, I try to avoid doing this.

But it’s basically impossible, so if you have to talk to people, it should be about something you care about, right? Instead of just gossiping or talking about the news or whatever people talk about usually.

There is a movie that is 100% not my taste at all, to the extent that not even Netflix would recommend it to me. But someone I really wanted to get to know better recommended it, so I watched it to have more opportunities to talk. And you know, I really liked it? It really surprised me. It’s not my favorite, but it made me reconsider what kinds of media I liked. This person also watched my favorite movie and really liked it, and I can guarantee you they would not have watched it otherwise.

I also have one coworker who I consistently get movie recommendations from, and while we have a lot of favorite movies in common, we are super different people so sometimes he recommends something where I think “Wow, really…?” and then I watch it and I’m like “Wow!!! Really!!”

Especially if there are people you have very little in common with, it’s nice to get recommendations. It’s easier to trust something a human tells you that they love than it is to trust an algorithm. I’ve found a lot of good music through people I know too, from genres I had always thought Weren’t My Taste.


 

All of this is to say, it is too early to start panicking about losing our humanity to the likes of Amazon et al. I think there are some alarming patterns in how our consumption habits are being shaped. But I also think it’s possible to opt out, and I think it should be encouraged. Technology is so wonderful, but it’s wonderful in moderation and when used with intentionality. Not when we leave all our decisions up to some algorithm.

For the Love of Cinema: Part I

A lot of the things I’ve loved since high school have come to me through other people. Most of the music I liked was recommended by my dad, then by my friends who I always feared were so much cooler than me, then by people I loved.  Books, too, I read because teachers gave them to me, or society said “These are the books one reads.” I came to genuinely like most of these things for myself, on my own terms, but they often came colored with expectations, desire for others, longing to connect with people.

Movies have always been different. Movies have always been mine.

Now, when I see movies I often read countless reviews, Criterion essays, books, analysis. I see movies people recommend, and I listen carefully to opinions before and after I watch something myself.

In high school, I didn’t really know anyone who watched movies. Not with the intensity that my cool friends listened to music, or that my teachers read.

I came to movies haphazardly, totally ignorant of criticism and reviews. I didn’t know who the directors To Watch were, like I knew that I was meant to read Joyce and Salinger and Murakami.

When I first saw La Double Vie de Veronique, it was so accidental, so isolated from the ouevre of Kieslowski and the greater context of late 20th century European cinema. Now, I like knowing the context, but I’m grateful for the circumstances in which I first came, blind, into the world of movies.

No matter how much I love something for myself, I always wonder how much of the recommender is contained in my love. Do I really love this song, or is it that I liked this boy so much who played it for me on that quiet summer day? Is this book so personal to me for its own reasons, or because the person who gave it to me believed in my creative side when I didn’t even know such a side of me existed?

I can say with all confidence that I love the movies of Bunuel and that they made me laugh in the basement of my parents’ house even though I’m sure I didn’t really understand them. And I can say with all confidence that I love La Double Vie de Veronique because it felt like seeing someone who was so like me, but older and better and kinder who told me that she saw me too, and that what she saw could also become better, kinder.

I have so much to say about that movie in particular, but the reason I’m writing this now is for a different a movie.

I just watched Call Me By Your Name, and that, more than any movie I’ve seen recently, reminded me so much of high school, and the way that I came to love movies.

After watching it, I put my music back on and immediately searched for reviews, but I got as far as one headline in the New Yorker before I decided, this movie is going to be mine.

It exists in the greater context of the director’s other work, and in the greater narrative of queer cinema, of coming of age cinema, or European film. And I’m sure all of that is very interesting, and I’m sure there are weak points that are stimulating to explore, but I can’t care about any of that. Not right now, anyway.

Something that always made my ex frustrated with me was that I loved artistic films without trying to understand what they really meant. And I think it’s valuable to explore films politically, and from the perspectives of class, gender, and sexuality. But I think that first and foremost, you have to understand a film from your own perspective. Not your perspective as you related to society, but your perspective as you relate to the own particular resonance of your own heart.

How does a movie make you feel? Does it make you want to talk to other people when the light come back on? Does it make you want to sit quietly beside a lake and think about nothing? Does it make you want to put on your best music and amplify the feelings it gave you? Does it make you want to cut your hair a certain way, or start wearing more blue?

I think I’m very far from the two main characters of the film, although I loved them very much. I don’t understand their circumstances, and their lives are geographically and emotionally very far from mine. It feels like I have to bridge and impossible gap to come back to my own life from the world of the movie.

In the end, I can’t say much at all. My feeling is that I need to be silent and hold close whatever it is this movie has just given me.

But I will say, I recommend it highly. If you are in America, please go watch this movie. If you are in Japan, please let me lend you the DVD. I don’t want to talk about it with anyone, but I want everyone to watch it, and feel whatever it is you’re meant to feel, on your own.